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World Juniors Recap Day 4: Radim Salda’s return and Sweden’s streak lives on

SOMEONE TELL THE CZECHS TO STOP TAKING UNNECESSARY PENALTIES.

Sweden v United States - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

As I looked ahead to the games on December 29th even before this year’s tournament began, I knew that this day would be pivotal. Not only would these games yield telling results for final group rankings, but it also gave us some really good matchups. Rather than spoil it all now, I’ll just let you read, because yesterday’s games did not disappoint.

Game One: Switzerland 4, Denmark 0

SOG: SUI - 30, DEN - 23
PP: SUI - 1/2, DEN - 0/4
Players of the Game: SUI - Philipp Kurashev (CHI ), DEN - Jonathan Brinkman (2019)

This recap will solely be dedicated to the emergence of Philipp Kurashev, followed by an ode to (likely) relegation-bound Denmark. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect had a hat trick and has scored five of Switzerland’s seven goals in the tournament.

Kurashev aside, the Danes actually started this game well. They played aggressively from the start of puck drop and forced Swiss goalie Luca Hollenstein into several big stops early. Unfortunately, as the game wore on, the Swiss became more effective in shutting down Danish chances. Coupled by Kurashev’s coming-out party, the Swiss rode his hat-trick to their first victory of the round-robin.

This was Switzerland’s lone goal not scored by Kurashev:

Head coach Christian Wohlwend was active on the bench in the third, urging his players to pick up the pace. Switzerland did falter after Kurashev’s hat trick goal, which allowed Denmark to press for a goal. They let the Danes surge offensively, but it just seemed as though Denmark had run out of puck luck. This was not like the game against Canada, or even Russia. Denmark had several good chances to score and a huge opportunity to take this game over. Passes didn’t connect, shots barely missed, the powerplay (which had four opportunities) was soft, and Hollenstein was solid when he had to be.

And so ended a third straight game where Denmark was shut out. Had they broken out of their scoreless funk, Denmark might have had a chance to avoid relegation (along with a win in their final game) in a tie-break scenario. But that didn’t happen, so unless something wild happens in the last three days of the round robin, they’ll be playing in relegation for the second straight year. Still, all hope is not lost — they have one more game to play against the Czech Republic, which now becomes a must-win for them. Switzerland will play Russia tomorrow for a chance to climb up to 3rd in Group A in their last game of the preliminary round.

Game Two: Finland 5, Slovakia 1

SOG: FIN - 36, SVK - 21
PP: FIN - 1/5, SVK - 1/5
Players of the Game: FIN - Ville Heinola (2019), SVK - Martin Fehervary (WSH)

I’m not really sure if anyone aside from Finnish fans remember the country’s dominance at the 2016 World Juniors too fondly, but that was the last time we saw draft-eligible players tear this tournament apart. Fast-forward three years later, and we may be looking at the same thing. Despite a plethora of NHL-loaned players on Finland, it was their 2019 draft-eligibles who made a statement in this game.

Let’s start with this rush from 2019 draft-eligible Anttoni Honka (younger brother of Dallas’ Julius Honka) before any of the goals happened:

Honka backs away from the Slovak forechecker and makes his own space by diverting around the net. Then, he rushes up the ice, deking out four Slovak defenders before his shot attempt is foiled. We get a great look at his skating and hands here, as well as his vision. This is a confident player, and it’s rare to see these kinds of rushes from draft-eligible players at the World Juniors.

Henri Jokiharju (Chicago) opened the scoring on a two-man advantage for his first goal of the tournament (Slovakia really threw their opportunity to win this game out the window with three penalties in the first). Then, Urho Vaakanainen (Boston) made a slick pass to Santeri Virtanen (Winnipeg) driving the net. Virtanen deked out Samuel Hlavaj and made it 2-0 Finland.

Finland’s draft-eligible players took over in the second, with goals from Ville Heinola (2019) and Anton Lundell (2020). Kaapo Kakko (2019) assisted on Heinola’s goal, and Heinola assisted on Lundell’s goal. Heinola was all over the ice tonight, showcasing his smooth skating and vision (much like Honka did), being named Finland’s player of the game.

Here’s a look at both goals:

Kaako, who made one of the quickest flick-passes I’ve ever seen, ended the night with only one assist. He was put on a line with Eeli Tolvanen, and strangely enough, it was Kaako who ended up elevating the play of the World Juniors veteran:

Peters also gave his thoughts on Kaako’s game tonight — more high praise for the 17-year-old:

I said before the tournament began that Finland’s strength was their NHL-loaned players, but if their draft-eligibles continue to play the way they have, this is a team that will challenge for gold. They’ll face their biggest test of the round robin on New Year’s Eve against the United States in what could decide who wins Group B. Meanwhile, Slovakia will faceoff against Kazahkstan tomorrow and (with a win) hopefully avoid relegation.

Game Three: Canada 5, Czech Republic 1

SOG: CAN - 31, CZE - 24
PP: CAN - 2/5, CZE - 0/2
Players of the Game: CAN - Ty Smith (NJD), CZE - Jan Jenik (ARI)

First of all, Tampa Bay Lightning fans, rejoice!

Salda was in the lineup against Canada and played with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Filip Kral. He wasn’t too noticeable, but he was on the ice for three of Canada’s goals and didn’t play more than a third-pair role.

If you were watching me live-tweet this game, you could probably safely assess that the Czechs drained me of my sanity last night. They came into this game having taken 10 penalties in two games. Then, the Czechs took five minors and two 10-minute misconducts. It got so ugly that the struggling Canadian powerplay actually broke out of its slump yesterday.

It wasn’t just depth players taking penalties, either. Both Martin Kaut (Colorado) and Martin Necas (Carolina) served 10-minute misconducts for boarding and hitting from behind, respectively. Here’s a snapshot of my disdain for the undisciplined Czechs:

Here is Kaut’s first period misconduct:

Followed by Necas’ in the third:

Needless to say, Evan Bouchard (Edmonton) had a rough night.

Anyways, onto the actual game! From Canada’s perspective, this was as good of a game for what they’d been looking for. Their powerplay woke up (largely thanks to the Czechs force-feeding them opportunities) and penalty kill shut the door. Mikey DiPietro was near-perfect in goal. Canada sat back several times in this one, allowing the Czechs to control the play and relentlessly pepper DiPietro with shots.

Maxime Comtois (Anaheim) opened the scoring for Canada six minutes into the first, but Ondrej Machala tied the game 37 seconds later off a two-on-one pass from Jan Jenik (Arizona). Brett Leason tipped in a Ty Smith (New Jersey) point shot, restoring Canada’s lead — and they would not look back.

Alexis Lafreniere (2020) made it 3-1 Canada after a nice give-and-go with Jack Studnicka, sniping a shot past Czech goalie Jiri Patera (Vegas). He was another 17-year old to get going in this tournament today after being called out by his coach on Friday. Take a look at this:

After a four goal first period, Mackenzie Entwistle (Arizona) made it 4-1 in the second. Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka made a brilliant play that would lead to the goal:

A fantastic pass from Nick Suzuki (Montreal) would lead to another powerplay goal from Morgan Frost (Philadelphia):

There were some ugly hits on both sides. 6’1” Jared McIsaac (Detroit) somehow managed to knock 6’7” Jachym Kondelik’s helmet off with his shoulder. Aside from Kaut and Necas’ misconducts, Necas also dragged Comtois to the ice by his helmet. But even more concerning, the Czech’s Three-Headed Monster fell silent yet another game. Evidenced by Kaut and Necas’ penalties, their frustration was at an all-time high. Filip Zadina (Detroit) had his stick explode off a one-timer for his best scoring chance of the night.

The Czech Republic, who play Denmark on New Year’s Eve in a must-win for both teams, have to figure out how to get them going. They will live and die by their offense (or lack thereof). Canada will head for a New Year’s Eve showdown with Russia for first place in Group A.

Game Four: Sweden 5, United States 4 (OT)

SOG: SWE - 31, USA - 31
PP: SWE - 0/3, USA - 1/2
Players of the Game: SWE - Samuel Ersson (PHI), USA - Ryan Poehling (MTL)

This was hands-down the most exciting and stressful game of the night, and if you didn’t stay up for it, well, you missed a doozy.

Like most of eastern North America, the United States fell asleep in the first two periods. Unlike most of eastern North America, they woke up in the third period a new and dangerous monster.

Filip Westerlund (Arizona) opened the scoring after a good rush from Lucas Elvenes (Vegas) and Samuel Fagemo (2019), beating Kyle Keyser (Boston) over the glove. Josh Norris (Ottawa) and Dylan Samberg (Winnipeg) took penalties four seconds apart, which sent Sweden to a prolonged 5-on-3. They were unable to convert on a fantastic kill by the US, though the Swedes continued to build momentum in spite of that.

Sweden built on their lead in the second, adding goals from Rickard Hugg (a wacky bounce that trickled over the goal line) and Emil Bemstrom (Columbus) to make it 3-0. Quinn Hughes (Vancouver) made an egregious giveaway and was striped by David Gustafsson (Winnipeg), who fed Bemstrom for the goal.

The Americans were undone by giveaways, but Keyser did not look good on any of these goals. I might have mentioned in the tournament preview that USA’s past results usually reflect how their goalies have played.

We headed to the third with USA down by three. That hole increased when Erik Brannstrom wove around the American zone to add Sweden’s fourth goal of the night:

That’s pretty much where the good fortune ended for Sweden in the third. Mikey Anderson (Los Angeles) got the United States on the board with a blast that beat Ersson five-hole. After that, this game became the Ryan Poehling show:

The United States’ second natural hat trick in as many days sent the game to overtime, where I lost my pulse several times and was still recovering a half hour post-game. Overtime in the preliminary round is five minutes of 3-on-3, like the NHL’s regular season.

I don’t think I can fully capture the chaos that was overtime, so here are the most heart-stopping moments that led up to the game-winner:

Adam Boqvist (Chicago) won the game for Sweden and, in doing so, increased Sweden’s preliminary round winning streak at the World Juniors to 47 games. The Swedes have a chance to make it 12 straight undefeated years in the round robin as they close out against Kazahkstan on New Year’s Eve.

Unfortunately for USA, that was a pretty crushing loss. Not only are you likely to meet one of the Czechs or Russia in the quarter-finals, it should be Canada in the semi-finals if both countries make it there.

Jack Hughes sat out his second straight game with a suspected shoulder injury, but USA expects him to be back for the quarter-finals at the latest:

As the United States pressed for goals in the third, head coach Mike Hastings shortened the bench:

The Americans looked lost in the first two periods and most of the third, especially defensively. They seemed to have no answer for Sweden’s offense, at least not right away. But if this game proved anything, it’s that this group can get out of any mess — and that Sweden’s defense can be broken. USA has a huge game against Finland on New Year’s Eve. They’ll need help from Kazahkstan and a regulation win to finish atop Group B.

Today’s Games:

  • Russia vs. Switzerland (8pm EST/5pm PST)
    Players to Watch: RUS - Nikolai Kovalenko (COL) SUI - Philipp Kurashev (CHI)
  • Slovakia vs. Kazahkstan (10:30pm EST/7:30pm PST)
    Players to Watch: SVK - Pavol Regenda, KAZ - Sayan Daniyar